Ripped away from the Bronx, the Suburbs Could not Compare for a Kid
Stickball, Stoop and the Subway - Who could Ask for anything More
I was born on Bronxdale Avenue and have very vague memories of the Bronx. You see, I was ripped away at five years old and clearly remember the excitement of being in the basement of our own house in Somers, NY. Little did I know, my euphoria was misplaced.
In Kindergarten, there wasn’t an awareness of how tied to the land I was. Nonetheless, there were kids on my block, but I don’t think that I liked them very much.
Fortunately, my cousins lived across the street, and that was pretty cool. They were gone by fourth grade, however.
Of course, by this time I realized how much reliance there was on parents to get kids to where there might be something going on. No sidewalks anywhere, the problem also feed into itself. Everyone grasped to gather enough momentum to actually get something to go on.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the many trips to the Bronx to visit my grandparents and family friends rubbed salt in the wound. You looked outside, and kids were playing everywhere. What a paradise so every awesome visit was bittersweet.
I also got a taste of what the subway meant to kids. Me and my Dad used to drive to his old neighborhood, and catch the "6" to Yankee Stadium.
Rolling up without any fuss, the ease resonated in my father’s favorite foray to 161st Street in 1949. “The Yankees were one game out, with two games to play against the Red Sox,” he often told me. “I took my brother to both games. Johnny Lindell got the game winner on Saturday, and the Bombers wrapped it up on Sunday.”
Who could ask for anything more?
How about my first street game - stoop ball. The front steps and a Spalding, a playstation had nothing on the ingenuity of city kids. Off the stoop on a fly was ten, on a bounce was five and popping off the point was a hundred. I can still see "Johnny" tracking a high bouncing hundred pointer through the parked cars and onto Garfield Street. So many athletic skills to be honed in one simple game.
The trip always ending, though, I tried lighten my exile by bringing the game home. The transport was a pretty tricky proposition. We only had one step, and after a few feet of concrete, the lawn started. I made due, and it was actually kind of fun. I could dive for balls that got shorted or went deep.
However, the downside was glaringly obvious. There was no one near enough to play with, and beating my own score was the only game.
Now, that’s not say that I never had kids to play with. A little luck and there was wiffle ball, basketball and football games within walking distance. We also had little league, and suiting up with your classmates, the country probably had the city kids beat in this regard.
There was also climbing trees, traipsing through the woods and fishing, which probably had the city kids envious. Not to worry, the only thing I ever really took away or caught was poison ivy, and despite the fresh air, the Bronx had the edge. I mean, you could roll out of bed and right into a game of stickball.
The best I could do was taking to Lakeside Drive and getting lessons from my elders. Dad would bounce the Spalding at the base of our dead end street, and me and my brother would flag down the shots he launched over the trees.
Of course, my father learned the game from his father. “I pitched, Uncle Willie played the infield, Uncle Freddy played the outfield, and if we didn’t have a ball, we cut the top of the broom stick off,” he revealed.
So seeing my 70 year old grandfather fielding the ground balls and the egg shaped bloopers filled me with pride. Happily, I did get my chance to swing away. I started to play automatics with my dad when I got older. On a bounce or against the wall with a box, the competiton we shared is a cherished memory.
But becoming a teenager meant it was my time to pass the game down. My Schwinn Varsity shrunk the world a bit, and in the Summer of 1979, the kids on Lovell Street got a taste of the city’s game.
We did make a few concessions, though. Tennis balls replaced the pink, there was no traffic to dodge and home runs were lost in the woods. On the other hand, I’m proud to say that most of the disappeared yellow came off my swing, and Somers couldn’t believe my prowess. Lot’s of lineage, I’d tell them, “this game is in my blood.”
Time passing, the stickball eventually got away from me. But whenever I see a broom stick or come across the Spaldings I still have around, I dream of taking one deep.
Not as futile as it sounds, about ten years ago, I didn’t have to dream. I was covering a NYC street games event in Peekskill, and country kids were getting an introduction. The myraid of activities totally foreign to the participants, the game that had all the kids sniping in disbelief was stickball.
Why are you bringing a broom they asked their parents, and how could you possibly hit a ball with it. The game starting, the first few adults barely moved the ball past the batter’s box and deriding chatter was abound. "You see, we were right," the kids chimed in
Then I got up.
Letting the noise pass, I didn't tip my hand. One pitch and I hit it over the school.
They all shut up.
I wish my grandfather could have seen me. He would have been proud - even without three sewers to mark the moment.
Please Like My Page on Facebook